SoMa

Summary: SoMa is the cultural nexus of San Francisco, containing its major museum district, several art galleries, and an eclectic mix of international restaurants, hotels, and theaters. In addition, with its lofts, South Beach high-rise residences, and rundown houses at the neighborhood’s margins, SoMa offers a wide range of options for residents. The creative mix of young people and its proximity to the financial district have also made SoMa an irresistible temptation for tech firms and many mainstream retailers. SoMa is thus a vital, constantly improving neighborhood.

South of Market (abbreviated SoMa) is a mostly upscale section of the city just south of the Financial District. SoMa is, put simply, a swath of prime real estate stretching from the bay to Highway 101 at Van Ness, with Townsend Street (just past Highway 80) as its southern border. You can roughly divide SoMa into three areas, the South Beach area by the Embarcadero (which is largely residential), the cultural fulcrum of the neighborhood centered around the Yerba Buena gardens on third and fourth Streets, and the retail corner in the southwest.

The first third of SoMa, South Beach, is a high-end largely residential area near the waters of the Bay. It is book-ended by the Ferry Building [D1] on the north and AT&T Park [D2] (where the Giants play) on the south. Although near Mission Street, the slightly stuffy atmosphere of the Financial District still pervades, as you head towards the ballpark there is a somewhat more laid back vacation vibe as you come across South Beach’s newer squat condominiums and high rise apartments. Not even the financial crisis has dampened the sounds of construction that are the white noise of this popular residential neighborhood known for its great views of the Bay. These days, your average condominium or apartment rents for about $3,000--although many newer, sleeker glassy high-rises often fetch as much $6,000 on their upper floors.

Outside of South Beach, more affordable lofts and live-work spaces are plentiful, but the vast majority of SoMa residents live along the squalid inland stretches of the Highway 80 corridor or near the less desirable border with the Tenderloin. Statistics show that incomes in these humbler areas are far below the range of those who can afford South Park rental spaces.

This mix of rich, working class and poor, has its expected effect on crime rates. Assaults and robberies are high along SoMa’s alleyways, streets and even its major arteries. Property crime is also high and trending up, with auto break-ins and vehicle thefts leading the way, and the number of murders, averaging about 5 per year, high for most neighborhoods in San Francisco (although half of what you find in its southern neighbor, the Mission).

As you cross Third Street, you find yourself in what is arguably the cultural center of the entire city. The list of SoMa museums is extensive, including the Contemporary Jewish Museum [D3], the Museum of the African Diaspora [D4], the Cartoon Art Museum [D5], the California Historical Society[D10] and the Railway Museum [D6]. The highlights of these museums are the Museum of Modern Art [D7] and the Yerba Buena Gardens [D8]. SF MoMA, as the Modern Art Museum is called, has upped San Francisco’s claim to being a world-class cultural center, presenting exhibits that routinely challenge the definitions of modern art—as when its exhibitions focusing on high fashion as a form of artistic expression gave the art world’s assumptions about commercialism a good shaking. The font of SoMa’s vitality, however, emanates from the Yerba Buena Gardens and its cross-cultural and generational appeals. Yerba Buena includes not only one of the most popular outdoor areas for lunching, but multi-media exhibitions, a theater, and Zeum—the children focused area that includes a refurbished carousel reminiscent of the carousel in Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens.

Several city offices such as the SF Mint [D9] and the new Federal Building have either moved or found themselves repositioned in relation to this new artistic landscape. The Moscone Center [D11], the premier convention center in the city, has perhaps benefited most from its new neighbors and now books year round conventions. Private hotels, restaurants, and art galleries have also staked their claims to the area. Fifth Street, for example, is home to both the traditional Pickwick Hotel [D12], and more modern glassy giant, The Intercontinental [D13]. The range of multi-cultural high-end restaurants is also cosmopolitan with everything from a number of French bistros to Indian food.

The nightlife in the area is also diverse, providing a steady beat to neighborhood in the after hours. You can enjoy yourself with everything from concert venues like the Warfield[D14] or the Golden Gate Theater[D15] on Market, to the several ritzy night spots more within the heart of SoMa (like Slim’s[D16], Annies Social Club[D17] and Club DNA[D18]). Several bars, both gay and straight, open their taps in SoMa. You can find everything from a traditional Irish pub like the Chieftain [D19] (frequented largely by Financial District types) to a very gay bar like The Stud [D20] (frequented by largely by devotees of the S&M crowd).

Which brings us to the retail section of SoMa in its southwest corner. This used to be the center of the S&M Gay Culture that for a long time blocked the city’s attempts to transform the area. The bathhouses and XXX leather shops are largely gone now, and although the Folsom Street Fair celebrates this era of the neighborhood’s history and you can still find stores like Out of the Closet [D21] that give a nod to the area’s roots, fairly mainstream stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond [D22] and Costco [D23] have replaced the majority of the countercultural establishments.

SoMa’s positioning near the Mission also means that much of that creative spirit spills over its southern border, and so right around Highway 80 is where you will find the headquarters for rising tech companies like Twitter[D24], Yelp[D25], Wired[D26] and BitTorrent[D27]. This has made SoMa a nexus of art, business, culture, government, and technology that gives it perhaps the brightest future of any neighborhood in the Bay Area.